COVID-19: About 25 nightspots to reopen under pilot scheme; business body urges others to pivot or exit

COVID-19: About 25 nightspots to reopen under pilot scheme; business body urges others to pivot or exit

View of the Clarke Quay area in Singapore
View of the Clarke Quay area in Singapore. (Photo: Lydia Lam)

SINGAPORE: About 25 nightlife establishments will be allowed to reopen as part of a pilot programme, said the Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA) on Monday (Nov 9) as it urged those that continue to struggle with the prolonged closure to look at pivoting or exiting operations.

Apart from the “limited” vacancies, the pilot scheme announced by authorities last Friday requires nightlife venue operators to adhere to COVID-19 safety measures, and will last for only two to three months depending on the type of business, said the association.

READ: Some nightlife businesses allowed to reopen with COVID-19 safety measures under pilot programme

The announcement of a pilot programme for a “small number” of nightlife businesses to reopen comes after almost eight months of closure for some pubs and bars without food licences, karaoke joints, nightclubs and discotheques. 

These nightlife spots have not been allowed to reopen even as COVID-19 restrictions were eased gradually since June. 

SAFETY MEASURES

Some of the safety measures include opening nightclubs and karaoke lounges to only residents and those with work passes, as well as those who have done COVID-19 tests in the past 24 hours, said SNBA at a press conference on Monday to provide more details about the pilot programme.

For karaoke lounges, groups of up to five people must be within enclosed rooms for singing. Rooms will have to be cleaned and disinfected after every use.

SNBA also said nightclubs that reopen under the pilot scheme will have a capacity limit of up to 100 people across two zones. Each zone, which can each hold 50 people, can have dining and dancing areas but they must be kept separate. No live entertainment and performances will be allowed.

These safety measures are not final and may be refined before the pilots start, said SNBA in its presentation slides.

"It is important they understand that the pilots are very limited, very onerous I would say (as) there are stringent requirements to adhere to,” the association’s president Joseph Ong told reporters.

As such the industry association is hoping to temper the “excitement” it had seen among industry players eager to reopen their doors.

“There’s been a lot of excitement on the pilots and we hope to explain that (they) are just tests,” said Mr Ong who described the programme as “phase one clinical trials” with small sample sizes and long observational periods.

“So they should not be regarded as an alternative for the operators to reopen. The chances are low that they will be selected, and the trial requires extreme planning and care.”

REOPENING UNDER PILOT SCHEME

SNBA told reporters that the 25 slots available under the pilot scheme could be allocated to 10 pubs and bars, 10 karaoke establishments and five nightclubs.

The trade association, which has about 320 members, said it will be facilitating the application process from pubs, bars and nightclubs together with Singapore River One (SRO). 

Applications will open from Wednesday to Sunday, although it said it is in talks with the authorities to extend the deadline to Nov 23.

The Singapore Entertainment Affiliation, which represents more than 100 karaoke operators, will collate applications for karaoke establishments, it said.

READ: Lights out, music stops: Still-shuttered pubs, karaoke joints call for help amid COVID-19 pandemic

The final decision on which establishments will be selected for the pilots will be made by the authorities, SNBA added.

According to MTI and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the pilot for pubs and bars will start by December and last two months.

Operators will have to ensure customers wear masks when singing or on the dance floor, and deploy surveillance cameras at all common areas and rooms.

All customers entering karaoke lounges and nightclubs must have tested negative for COVID-19 24 hours prior to the end of the activity at the nightlife establishment.

The pilot for this group of businesses is set to only begin in January and will last for three months, as operators need more time to prepare. Authorities will also need more time to assess whether it is safe for these “higher risk” venues to reopen.

Asked who will likely be bearing the cost of these COVID-19 tests, Mr Ong replied that nightlight venue operators are probably unable to absorb the cost and will have to pass it on to consumers.

“We are hoping that whoever comes to us with a proposal for the pilot will bear in mind that customers will have ... to absorb the cost,” said Mr Ong. 

He added that the association has yet to speak to clinics and medical centres, but will look at establishing such partnerships to lower cost.

READ: COVID-19: Singapore to pilot pre-event rapid testing from mid-October so more events can safely resume

PIVOTING OPERATIONS OR EXITING INDUSTRY

Last week, authorities announced financial grants for those that will not be participating in the pilot programme. These are aimed at helping these businesses to either pivot to permissible activities such as food and beverage (F&B), or to exit the industry.

Since the announcement on Friday, SNBA, which has been working with the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and Enterprise Singapore on support for the nightlife industry, said it has received about 150 enquiries.

About 40 per cent enquired about the pilot programme, while the rest were split between enquiries about support measures for pivoting and exiting.

“Pivots and exits are options that are now made available for many of the operators out there. If you are not able to reopen, this is the best chance to pivot … if (you) are facing difficulties then exit may be the best option,” said Mr Ong said. 

SNBA also provided more details about the support measures for those that choose to pivot into F&B.

These businesses will be able to get a 12-month temporary conversion and an “expedited” process for a licence change to carry out F&B operations.

The process can take as quickly as 14 days, compared to “months” previously, the association said.

Those that choose to pivot to other commercial uses, such as offices or gyms, will be assessed by the relevant agencies on a case-by-case basis.

READ: With no prospect of reopening, KTV lounge owners say industry has been 'forsaken'

Nightlife businesses will have until Mar 31, 2021, to apply for the relevant grants to pivot or exit.

Those keen on pivoting may apply for a grant of up to S$50,000 to defray the costs incurred during the pivoting process, such as equipment and third-party consultancy costs. 

For those that choose to exit, they can apply for an ex-gratia payment of S$30,000 to defray the costs of the cessation of business. They will have until Jun 30, 2021, to submit completed claims forms, as well as documents to show that they have commenced the business closure and surrender all operating licences.

Businesses will only be eligible for either one of the financial support grants, SNBA said.

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Source: CNA/sk

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